Joanne Tang comes from a family of very determined people. Her Chinese parents were born in Cambodia and knew each other as children growing up there. But at the age of 15, her mother escaped to Thailand just ahead of the Khmer Rouge.
In the late 1970s her father was placed in a refugee camp in Thailand and was waiting to be resettled. In 1980, in his early twenties, he came to the United States, settling in San Francisco where he worked as a chef.
Eventually, he was able to bring Joanne's mother to join him in Los Angeles, where he again worked as a chef and she made clothes at various clothing factories.
The Tangs and their two children, Joanne and her brother Nelson, formed strong relationships with other Asian families in the Los Angeles area; thus, the closing of the restaurant where Mr. Tang worked was a very unwelcome development, as it would mean another uprooting.
Fortunately, extended family at the Twin Dragons Grand Buffet in Brevard learned of the setback and offered jobs to the Tangs and to the members of another family. The Tangs packed up once again in 2005 and moved to the mountains, an area which, Joanne observes, they did not know at all, where the weather could be cold for months and the wildlife was unfamiliar. Still, they had friends, jobs and determination. Joanne was 10 years old when she moved to Brevard.
In high school, Joanne took a course in anatomy and physiology from Mrs. Galloway, whom Joanne describes as "a wonderful teacher." When Joanne had to write a research paper on nutrition, she discovered that "food is like medicine," and, although she did not realize it then, her future was beginning to take shape.
Joanne's parents could not afford to send her to college, so she was thrilled when she received financial assistance, including a Connestee Falls scholarship in 2013, which allowed her to attend Blue Ridge Community College. There she thought of making a career in physical therapy, but she concluded it would be a very competitive field. Determined to study subjects that would lead to a successful career, Joanne remembered her discovery of food as medicine and decided to become a registered dietician.
This month, Joanne will graduate from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in food and nutrition. To complete her degree, she will have worked 150 hours at a food pantry for the Hunger and Health Coalition, where she is responsible for assembling donations from restaurants into individually packaged complete meals for clients, and another 150 hours at Ashe Memorial Hospital in Jefferson, N.C., where she shadows a nutritionist and works with patients with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. To help make ends meet, she also has held two paying jobs while at Appalachian State, as an employee in the university cafeteria and as a home personal care assistant for the elderly.
Following Joanne's graduation, she will move into an internship which she compares to a medical residency in that the process to obtain it was very competitive. She is excited to have this opportunity, which will give her ten months of exposure to many aspects of nutrition. Upon completion of the internship she will sit for the registered dietician examination to become a licensed professional dietician.
Asked what she would say to the supporters of and contributors to the Connestee Falls Student Scholarship Program, Tang said, "Thank you so much for your generous help. You have really helped me achieve my goals and dreams. My passion has always been to help others, but I wasn't sure how to do that. Receiving your scholarship allowed me to find my way."